Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Why the Program is Needed

Today over 46 million Americans live in poverty, and unemployment and under-employment rates remain persistently high. TANF reduces poverty by providing low-income families with both direct income assistance as well as services to promote economic self-sufficiency through employment.

What it Does

The TANF block grant provides funding for states to help low income individuals to enter and remain in the workforce.  It replaces the federal programs previously known as "welfare," and enables states to offer a wide variety of social services to:

  • assist needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes;
  • reduce the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage;
  • prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and
  • encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families

It is important to note that many TANF recipients have physical or mental impairments. In addition, many TANF families include a child with a disability.  The General Accounting Office found that 44% of parents receiving TANF had at least one physical or mental health impairment, three times higher than the rate of such impairments among adults not receiving TANF benefits. [1] This confirmed findings from other studies that many parents on TANF have mental impairments such as intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, severe depression, general anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and brain injury, as well as physical impairments [2].

Authorizing Legislation

Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act of 1996 (known as “welfare reform”) (42 USC § 603)

Recent Funding

Please see the table on the Funding for Federal Disability-related Programs page.

For More Information


[1] U.S. General Accounting Office, Welfare Reform: Former TANF Recipients with Impairments Less Likely to be Employed and More Likely to Receive Federal Supports, (GAO-03-210), December 2002, available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03210.pdf

[2] Sheila R. Zedlewski, Work Activity and Obstacles to Work Among TANF Recipients, Urban Institute, Series B, No. B-2, September 1999, http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/anf_b2.pdf. For a discussion of numerous studies that have reported on the status of parents with disabilities in state TANF programs, see Eileen P. Sweeney, Recent Studies Indicate that Many Parents Who are Current or Former Welfare Recipients Have Disabilities or Other Medical Conditions, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 2000, http://www.cbpp.org/2-29-00.htm. See also, Heidi Goldberg, Improving TANF Program Outcomes for Families with Barriers to Employment, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, January 2002, http://www.cbpp.org/1-22-02tanf3.htm